Q Deal Citizen Opposition Gears Up for Voter Referendum

click to enlarge The Rev. Jawanza Colvin lays out the GCC's demands. - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
The Rev. Jawanza Colvin lays out the GCC's demands.
Calling the Q deal "deeply flawed," Greater Cleveland Congregations announced a new coalition of local citizen organizations that will begin gathering signatures for a voter referendum in an effort to repeal the controversial legislation passed Monday night.

The ordinance in question (305-17) commits an estimated $88 million of city money to the Q project from 2023-2034. It has been the subject of extensive debate as it has progressed "like a knife through butter," (quoting Ward 8 Councilman Mike Polensek), through the county and city councils.

It was never expected to fail.

The $88 million represents the city's contribution in the arena's exterior overhaul, which may cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $280 million after interest payments. The city funds will come from a portion of the eight-percent admissions tax collected on ticketed events at the Q. County council voted to issue $140 million in bonds for the project after lengthy deliberations earlier this year.

Greater Cleveland Congregations, the organization that has lead the opposition effort thus far, is now joined by Service Employees International Union Local 1199, the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, AFSCME Ohio Council 8, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 268. Together, they'll begin collecting the necessary 6,000 signatures. They have 30 days to submit them.

The coalition has been meeting to explore strategies for weeks — GCC has said that "all options were on the table" — but they met Tuesday night at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church to plan their next steps on the referendum.  

“From the beginning there has been an unwillingness to develop a deal that addresses the critical ills in our neighborhoods like high unemployment, inadequate mental health crisis centers, increasing gun violence, and persistent challenges in schools," said Pastor Richard Gibson, one of GCC's leaders, in a press release. "More energy has been spent attacking our proposal than considering or developing a deal that would more broadly impact our city and county."

It's an important point. GCC has long cried foul that the deal was never subject to meaningful negotiation with input from residents. It was presented to the public, fully formed and "to much fanfare and celebration" at a press event in December. As Kevin Kelley verified to Scene, all city council was prepared to do was ratify the deal in its existing format. (It was Kelley, nevertheless, who was said to have negotiated additional provisions to sweeten the deal hours before the final council vote.)

GCC contends that those additional provisions are nowhere near enough. Among other gestures, the Cavs have agreed to "refurbish" the gym floors at city rec centers and CMSD high schools, a far cry from the dollar-for-dollar match that GCC has proposed.

Negotiating a community benefits agreement, the GCC said, is a practice "that has become commonplace across the country when municipalities seek significant public subsidy for development projects such as sports arenas, yet has never been done in Cleveland’s history."

click to enlarge Q Deal Citizen Opposition Gears Up for Voter Referendum
Sam Allard / Scene
While the city does have a "CBA" in place for development projects, it deals exclusively with hiring goals. And while hiring local and minority labor is important, GCC has contended that those considerations should be "baked in" to every city project — before benefits negotiations.

Like others who oppose the deal, including several of the city councilmen, the new coalition highlighted an array of difficulties facing the region that could be addressed in a CBA.

"The push for the Q expansion has taken place in the backdrop of Cleveland experiencing its worst street violence in decades and Cuyahoga County being the epicenter of the nation’s opioid epidemic," the press release concluded. "The region remains one of the hardest-hit by the foreclosure crisis and slowest to recover. The county is $1 billion in debt and the city of Cleveland recently needed to pass a major income tax increase on regular working people to cover the costs of basic services in the city. There remains a better solution for our community."

Because City Council passed 305-17 with a 2/3 majority — Brian Cummins switched from a NO to a YES to make the final tally 12-5 — the ordinance received an emergency designation and took effect immediately. Frank Jackson signed it into law in a rhapsodic Facebook Live video Tuesday. The ordinance is still subject to referendum, per the city charter, but efforts to repeal will likely be challenged in some form by the administration.
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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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